AUGUSTA, Maine — Battle lines are being drawn around an unusual proposal to change laws in the state of Maine pertaining to where young adult inmates serve out their sentences. The Maine Department of Corrections recently proposed changing a law that prohibits young adults from being housed in juvenile facilities.
Jody Breton, associate commissioner at the state’s Department of Corrections, told Bangor Daily News the proposal was intended to improve outcomes in rehabilitating young adults. Breton argued that juvenile centers had more appropriate resources for these offenders than adult correctional centers.
“It would allow us to provide more specific training to that age group. There’s been a lot of research showing that brain development isn’t complete until age 25,” she said.
The proposal, named “An Act to Allow Young Adult Offenders to be Confined in Juvenile Correctional Facilities,” was released as part of the list of proposed bills that departments submit to the state legislature each year. The bill, if passed, would change an awkwardly worded law that prohibits inmates between 18 and 25 from being housed at juvenile facilities that hold people between ages 11 and 21.
Basically, Breton and her colleagues believe that 25-year-old inmates have more in common with juvenile offenders than their older peers. She added that this program would be selective and focused on reducing recidivism, meaning young adults facing life sentences or long-term incarceration would remain in traditional correctional facilities.
The proposal has created an interesting political battle, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine is supporting the move, while the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) opposes the change.
ACLU representatives argued that the change would increase the amount of resources young adults receive, leading them away from a life of crime. AFSCME officials disagreed, saying the move would put the current occupants of juvenile facilities at risk.
Jim Mackie, a spokesman for AFSCME told the Bangor newspaper, “I certainly cannot believe any parents in Maine with a juvenile in one of those facilities would want their children confined with older, long-term incarcerated individuals.”
Breton responded that this was an overreaction by the AFSCME, as current federal regulations prohibit juvenile offenders from coming making visual or verbal contact with older inmates, meaning facilities would have to be organized to prevent encounters between the two age groups.
Mackie speculated that the move was really part of a larger scheme to downsize state correctional facilities.